Factory tours can generally be an insight into the health of a company and the quality of their products. It is extremely difficult to “put on a show” when you have access to the entire facility. Now we aren’t saying that doesn’t happen, but when you have over 120,000 sq. ft., “putting on a show” isn’t really an option.
Diesel Army was lucky enough to spend the day with advanced FLOW engineering located in Corona, California. aFe Power is led by some extremely progressive engineers and passionate enthusiasts who focus on not only improving products, but addressing the needs of individuals. They listen very closely to the market and keep an eye on the latest manufacturing techniques to get those ideas to market quickly and efficiently. And with a mission statement that says:
“We are in business to provide an exceptional value for our customers by offering the highest quality automotive products that will enhance their vehicles performance. We shall do so in an ethical manner, striving to achieve the highest growth rate in the industry, while being conscious of the environment and taking care of our most important asset: our employees.”
We knew we were in for quite the treat. Through the continual investment in both equipment and resources they have managed to not only bring most of their manufacturing in-house, but they actually have a less than 1% return rate on the parts they sell, which is quite impressive for any large aftermarket company these days.
So, we toured the facility and focused on some of the key things they do to ensure that their products are made to meet their stringent quality standards from start to finish.
The first area of production we came to was their exhaust line. They take in the raw products (mostly tubing) and sort it by size and type. When they start a production run, they pull the appropriate tubing (diameter and type) and stack it up by the saws. The first step is to cut the tubing into the appropriate lengths. Once each pipe is cut, they put the lengths into bins that are then wheeled over to the benders.
aFe actually owns and uses quite a few mandrel benders to keep up with production. Most of these benders are setup for single size tubing. The main exception is their relatively new investment, a HERBER electric bender. This bender gives them the ability to switch tubing sizes quickly and efficiently. This ease of changeover allows them to make short production runs of exotic and luxury exhaust systems without having to factor in hours of change over time into the price. Another interesting feature of the Herber bender is the fact it is electric. The electric bender produces an extremely repeatable bend and with no hydraulic lines to rupture. So, not only do they see improved tolerances with the machine, but it is rarely out of commission with down time for maintenance.
Once all of the tubing has been cut and bent, the systems are welded together. To ensure quality and consistency from system to system, the jig follows the production. As a result, they have hundreds of jigs to ensure proper fitment is kept throughout the build process.
As we continued to be in awe of the sheer size of the facility it was time to check out the intercoolers. Just past the exhaust area is the intercooler production area. They take various raw products and either form or machine them to the proper shape in large runs. These formed pieces are stacked and put off to the side for future runs. When they start a product run, they again, use jigs to align each sub assembly (each tank end) and then they use another jig to align and hold the entire intercooler for final welding.
“When we decided to produce intercoolers, we made the decision to invest heavily and purchased all new dedicated equipment,” says aFe’s Jason Bruce. aFe Power didn’t want to worry about pulling resources from one production line to produce another product. By owning the equipment; they also are able to have a dedicated team of employees focused on intercoolers. Since diving into the intercooler business roughly four years ago, they have seen tremendous growth in this line. “One of the primary features of the BladeRunner intercooler is our blades. They not only help to distribute the air evenly across the entire intercooler core, but also help increase the stiffness of the tank ends. This has proven to be extremely important in high boost race truck applications,” shared Bruce.
As we walked away from the intercooler production line, we came to their massive rows of raw goods. Bruce explained that the intake systems are the biggest customer of the filter department. As a result, they have bins and bins of boxed filters ready for kit packaging. In addition to the filters, this area houses their intake elbows, joints, flanges, clamps, etc. for their aFe Power line of intake systems.
Filter Media Production:
We continued down the aisle and turned the corner to reach the filter production area. “As funny as this sounds, we are actually one of only a few intake companies that produce their own filters,” mentioned Bruce. The filters all start out as rolls of medical grade cotton gauze, synthetic fiber, and expanded metal. Then depending on the type of filter they are making will depend on which rolls are pulled.
All of the filters have outer layers of screen then three to seven inner layers of progressive cotton gauze and synthetic material. The inner layers are designed with different weave sizes. As the air enters the filter, it has to move around the threads. By tightening the weaves, the dirt particles get trapped within the layers, which slows the air down so that it is cleaned completely. “Our engineers call this the torturous path,” said Bruce.
As the layers are pulled together, the Pleater machine forms the wave pattern that most of us are used to seeing. One of the unique aspects that aFe does when forming the filter media is to form the waves with a bull nose instead of sharp peaks. This bull nose actually still allows air to pass through more efficiently. With aFe producing their filters in-house, they are able to dial in the proper thickness of these pleats to ensure the filters are sized correctly for each application. They make pleats anywhere from 0.750 to 1.375 inches thick.
The filters are first made in long sheets that are rolled into large rolls and stacked on racks for later use. When production starts for the filters, the appropriate rolls are grabbed and cut down to size and shape. From there, the filters are jointed with metal bands to hold the basic shape. Right now, aFe cuts the filters to size one day in advance. The filters are then sorted into bins by filter type and the bins are sorted by volume.
The production of the filters is separated into three distinct areas; low, medium, and high volume. The low volume production area is filled with skilled workers that are able to work quickly together as one big unit. While we were there, it was quite impressive to see how “in sync” they were assembling the filters. This line requires constant changing of fixtures and a lot of hands-on work as this production line is completely manual and ever changing.
The next production area is the medium volume that blends automation with manual operations. There is a large table that rotates around and at each side are workers that flip the jigs, clean them, remove the filters and ensure that everything is running properly. On two other ends, there are also machines; one fills the jigs with urethane while the other robot applies the appropriate amount of oil.
The high volume production line is completely automated. These are for very high volume filters. The only manual process is taking the filters out and boxing them.
“It is a common misunderstanding how little oil is actually needed for the filters to work right. The automated machine barely sprays the filters and within an hour or so, the filters are fully covered. Generally people apply way too much oil,” Bruce shared.
With everything being in-house for the filters, aFe also realized that they have the ability to manufacture their own elbows and joints. This means that when overseas shipping gets behind, they aren’t affected. With the filters created, they are then boxed and either sent to inventory or over to the warehouse for individual sale.
The intake assembly area is where everything comes together for the intakes. They pull crates filled with components from the isles and line up the boxes. From there, everything is pulled together and sent down the assembly line. Once each box is filled, it runs through an automated taping machine and is weighed to ensure that all of the components (nuts, bolts, washers, filters, shields etc.) are in the box. They hold a very tight tolerance on how much the boxes must weigh for each intake and that ensures they are shipping complete kits.
Inventory and Shipping:
This was the end of the production lines, but next we walked next door to check out the other departments. We first walked into their warehouse that is approximately 40,000 sq. ft. While we were there, Bruce explained that they are actually running a little low on inventory since their huge blow out sale at the end of the year was such a success.
The shipping department is broken up into groups. The first group handles all of their B2B shipments. These are shipments that go on pallets and are shipped via freight. One very interesting thing aFe does is wrap everything in colored wrap. By wrapping everything in colored wrap, they can ensure that the shipper didn’t disassemble the crate to “pack” it better in the truck. If a dealer receives the shipment in a colored wrap, they know it is just the way aFe shipped it. If the wrap is clear, then the shipper has torn it down and could indicate the shipment may be short or missing boxes.
We manage about a 97% fill rate, which means that orders placed at aFe Power are shipped out on time.
The other shipping group handles all of their low volume shipments via ground shippers like FedEx and UPS. This is a growing side of the business as dealers stock less of the products they sell.
Through all of this process, “We manage about a 97% fill rate,” shared Bruce, “which means that orders placed at aFe Power are shipped out on time,” he continued.
With the production side of the tour done, we headed over to the engineering department. “We are an engineering lead company,” says Bruce. “We have three distinct groups, Intakes, Exhaust and Other. Each of these groups have a department lead and multiple engineers that are all working on improving our existing products and coming out with new lines,” continued Bruce.
One of the ways they are able to come out with products so quickly is by utilizing the latest rapid prototyping equipment. While we were there, they had both of their 3D printers printing parts to check fitment and design. Right outside of the engineering area, is their enormous R&D shop. Each group has dedicated technicians that are in charge of fabrication, installation, and testing of the prototype parts as well as random quality checks on current product lines.
In addition, there are multiple CNC machines for low volume production runs as well as prototype pieces. In the back of the facility is the in-ground dyno as well as their air filter testing area. aFe constantly validates that their products are producing the results they calculated and advertise. It is investments like this that continue to improve the quality and performance of the product lines.
Bruce pulled out one of their “test” filters they recently used to validate the efficiency. The dust test is a brutal test where the filter is exposed to a pre-set amount of fine dirt. The dirt is put into one end of the machine and air is sucked through the filter along with the dirt and then through a second set filter. The second filter is a “100%” filter meaning that it captures all of the remaining particulates. During the testing they take specific measurements on air volume and pressure. They also, take before and after weights of the dirt and both filters. Through some basic calculations they are able to calculate how efficient their filters are, how much volume they can flow, and what type of durability they have.
On the way out, they showed us their recent addition to the front of the building. They carved out a section of their building and put in a retail space. So, if you want to buy directly from aFe or want to pick up your intake from them locally, you can cruise on down. In addition, one of the guys working behind the counter will actually be the ones that answer the calls when you have a question.
Spending an entire day with the crew at aFe Power, it was obvious that the company is constantly evolving and as they continue to raise the bar, they still hold true to their mission statement providing high quality products for their customers and taking care of their employees. Having specific engineering teams that are dedicated to each category of their products allows the engineers to hone their specific knowledge gained from all of the different applications and testing towards the next product they develop, along with constantly refining their existing lines.
This company is definitely on the cutting edge and not only is the facility state-of-the-art, but the team behind the machines is where the passion truly lies. We’re very excited to see what the future holds!